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5 bad habits that will damage your relationships

Posted January 10

Question:

I admit that my emotions, anger and feelings about things get out of hand sometimes, and I have trouble handling disagreements or conversations well. My husband has said that my communication skills are bad because I come from a family who was dysfunctional and fought a lot. My parents couldn’t teach me how to deal with emotions in a healthy way because they didn’t know how. Do you have some advice on how to get a handle on myself in heated conversations? I’d be open to it.

Answer:

You are not alone in this. Many of us didn’t learn mature communication skills or how to process emotions with clarity from our families, and they don’t teach these skills in school or at church. Many people never have the opportunity to learn a better way or how to think positively unless they seek it out on their own. You cannot just sit back and blame your parents though, you must take personal responsibility for your lack of skills and find someone to help you. There are many courses, seminars, coaches and experts who can help improve your communication skills and gain tools to help you handle yourself better. And the truth is, you can’t do better until you know better.

In this article I will show you five common bad “people skills” habits, with some suggestions for changing them. These come from Patrick King’s book "People Tactics.”

1. Not being fully present in conversations

You may think more about what you want to say next than you really listen, or you might be thinking about something else altogether and not listening at all. You may give people the impression you don’t care about them or wish you were somewhere else. You are going to have to work on changing this if you want good relationships. If a conversation is boring you, you must own it’s partly your fault, because you aren’t engaged in making it meaningful by asking questions and getting to know this other human being.

One of the best new people skills you can practice is making every human being you talk to feel valued by asking about and validating their ideas, opinions and stories. Choose to see every human being as having something important to teach you. Ask more questions, listen and give them all your attention. This will create rich, caring, respectful relationships. Choose to be more curious about other people, ask more questions about them and show they matter. Drop or set aside your concerns and opinions. Really focus on the person in front of you. Don’t just listen, but really hear them, especially the people closest to you. Echo back what they say and honor and respect their right to think or feel different from you. This takes commitment, but you can do it.

2. Your world is black and white

This means you believe your ideas, opinions or feelings are right and anything else is wrong. You also see the world with a strong moral compass, where there is no gray. Patrick King says, “This habit is particularly toxic because people who have this mindset are very judgmental.” They have a tendency to see themselves as better or smarter than others. If people sense this tendency in you, they may avoid conversations with you or avoid you altogether. If this is your spouse or child that isn’t engaging with you anymore, that is a big problem.

The way you can change this habit is to first, change the way you see the value of all human beings. You must choose to see all people as having the same value and that value doesn’t change — it is infinite and absolute. Choose to remember that though someone thinks or acts differently from you, they still have the same value. Remind yourself that your perspective is one perspective (it is not truth). Also understand the more opinionated and stubborn you are, the less connected you will be with others.

When you insist on being right and making others wrong, they feel you don’t value them as a person. This happens because most people have attached their worth to their ideas and opinions. You must remember this and resist the need to be right all the time, so people will feel valued and like you. Choose to tell people you respect their right to their views and way of doing things (even your children). For some people with certain psychological inclinations, this black or white viewpoint takes a lot of work to change. If you’d like to know more about psychological inclinations, check this link out.

3. You are a conversational narcissist and dominate conversations

Do you love to hear the sound of your own voice and like to talk about your opinions too much? Do you realize after a conversation that you didn’t leave room for anyone else? Usually this need to talk too much comes from a deep fear of not being good enough. This fear drives your need to talk so you feel validated or you are trying to prove how smart or important you are.

To fix this bad habit you need to do some work on your own sense of intrinsic value. Choose to see every person as having the same value, and you will soon realize that counts for you too. The more secure you get, the less you will need to talk about yourself. Challenge yourself to spend every conversation asking questions and listening instead of talking, because it’s the kind of person you really want to be. Showing up for others and making them feel important will, in the end, make you feel better about yourself than talking does.

4. You give unsolicited advice or opinions

Be honest with yourself. Is this something you do? Do you honestly mean well and want to help others, but accidentally come off as a know-it-all? You must understand unsolicited advice is an insult. It makes others feel small, dumb or helpless no matter how well-intentioned it is. If this is something you do, make a new rule you never give advice unless you ask permission first. “Are you open to some advice on that?” This is a great way to make sure you aren’t stepping on anyone’s toes. If they say no, honor that. Often people bring up a topic because they want to process out loud more than they want your opinion. They need listening more than input most of the time. Ask if they want help solving the problem or just a listening ear? Then honor what they say. If they aren’t open to advice, respect that and let it go. It takes maturity and self-control to be this respectful, but it pays off big in most relationships. This one alone could completely change your relationship with your kids.

5. Assuming you already know what someone feels and thinks

If you haven’t asked questions and listened (today), then you don’t know where they are. One of the biggest insults in conversations is assuming you know what someone feels, thinks, does or did. Even if you were there, you don’t have any idea what went on in someone’s head or heart. To honor and respect other human beings, you must ask questions and listen to them before you ever take action or say anything. Don’t assume anything.

If you want good relationships, you must listen more than you talk. You must work on controlling your fears, so you don’t let your emotions create dramatic reactions. I have written many articles on overcoming your fears, and there is a great free e-book on processing emotions on my website that might help.

You may also want to take our free Clarity Assessment because it will show you (on paper) your subconscious tendencies toward being right, talking too much or not listening to others.

If you are not creating the kind of relationships you want, or are getting consistent feedback that your reactions and behavior are out of control, immature or dramatic, own it and do something about it. I don’t know how to change is no excuse. Life is a classroom, and you are here to grow, so you must be actively looking for ways to improve yourself. Coaching is a great place to start to gain new skills and have some support to get you there. A good coach can also help you eliminate the fears that create your bad behavior.

You can do this.

Kimberly Giles is the president of claritypointcoaching.com. She is the author of the book "Choosing Clarity: The Path to Fearlessness" and a popular life coach, speaker and people skills expert.

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